UC Berkeley agrees to make online content accessible to settle Justice Department lawsuit

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Dive Brief: 

  • The University of California, Berkeley has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to make its free online content accessible to people with hearing, visual and manual disabilities, the agency announced Monday. 
  • The proposed consent decree would settle allegations that UC Berkeley violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by making its free online content inaccessible to people with disabilities. That includes its content on YouTube, Apple Podcasts and UC BerkeleyX platform, which offers dozens of MOOCs. 
  • The agreement is pending court approval. If greenlit, UC Berkeley will make all future content and the “vast majority” of its existing content accessible. The university will also hire a web accessibility coordinator and train relevant workers on accessibility. 

Dive Insight: 

Although the agreement only impacts one university, it could signal that the Justice Department will be keeping a close eye on whether higher education institutions are providing accessible content. 

Inaccessibility issues are widespread at UC Berkeley, according to the lawsuit. For instance, much of its online content — such as its YouTube videos — are automatically captioned, leading to captions that have improper grammar and captions that are sometimes impossible to understand, according to the Justice Department’s complaint. That can make content inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities who rely on written captions. 

The university’s visual online content often does not include alternative text or audio descriptions, rendering it inaccessible to people with vision disabilities. And some of its content includes links that aren’t accessible by keyboard, making it hard for people who rely on screen readers to navigate the institution’s website. 

UC Berkeley has its work cut out to make existing online content accessible. 

In 2021, an investigation into 10 of UC Berkeley’s MOOCs found they weren’t accessible to people with various disabilities. That same year, the investigation also found more than 20,000 of the university’s YouTube videos lack captions or are automatically captioned, and that the vast majority of its content on Apple Podcasts don’t offer alternative formats, such as transcripts. 

Under the agreement, UC Berkeley will have 3 1/2 years to make changes. That will include revising its accessibility policies and hiring an independent auditor to determine whether its content is accessible. 

“By entering into this consent decree, UC Berkeley will make its content accessible to the many people with disabilities who want to participate in and access the same online educational opportunities provided to people without disabilities,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement. 

UC Berkeley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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